Two soldiers, one of whom was from Baker County, were killed in a weather-related incident Tuesday during training on a mountain in the northern part of Georgia, U.S. Army officials at Fort Benning said.
Army Ranger candidates Staff Sgt. George Taber — who News4JAX confirmed was from Glen St. Mary, Florida — and 2nd Lt. Evan Fitzgibbon died after they were struck by a falling tree while sheltering during “a weather-induced training hold,” according to Fort Benning.
Taber’s father told News4JAX by phone on Thursday that his son was an accomplished member of the military who was already a Green Beret and that Army Ranger was another badge his son was working on earning. Taber, 30, was a special forces medical sergeant assigned to the 7th Special Forces Group at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida. He enlisted in the Army in March 2017.
Taber’s father said his son served his country faithfully. He asked for privacy as the family grieves and said he plans to honor his son and talk about his legacy once the family discusses how they’ll do that.
Taber has a deep family history in Baker County. His family goes back generations, running a plant nursery. The tightknit community is saddened by the loss.
“Just a tragedy again, it lives on with his family forever. God bless them,” said Retired Maj. Gen. Douglas Burnett, who led the Florida National Guard. “And God bless them for letting our United States Army have their son to defend this great nation.”
Fitzgibbon was an infantry officer assigned to a training unit at Fort Benning. He was commissioned last year after graduating from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.
“Our heartfelt thoughts and prayers are with the families, friends, and leadership of these two outstanding leaders who unexpectedly lost their lives in the pursuit of excellence,” Fort Benning officials said in a statement.
The deadly incident occurred at Yonah Mountain, about 70 miles northeast of Atlanta and 170 miles northeast of Fort Benning, where the soldiers were taking part in the Army’s grueling Ranger School. The two-month course tests soldiers’ abilities to overcome fatigue, hunger and stress in rugged environments.
“We are all deeply saddened by the loss of these two outstanding Soldiers and send our heartfelt condolences to their families,” Maj. Gen. Curtis A. Buzzard, commanding general of Fort Benning and its Maneuver Center of Excellence, said in a statement. “They are in our thoughts and prayers.”
Three other soldiers were injured in Tuesday’s incident and treated at a hospital. As of Wednesday, according to the Army, two of them were treated for non-life threatening injuries, and the other remained in stable under medical care.
Burnett said deadly training accidents are rare, but the risk is always there.
“The nation’s business and taking care of its country and our citizens is dangerous, and the Army is the most dangerous — they’re good at what they do,” Burnett said.
He said the Department of Defense will do a full investigation.
“And now go out and take this apart down to bedrock and see what was missed if something was missed,” Burnett said. “They’ll see what the weather reporting was, how it was disseminated. They’ll talk to people within that formation to see were they aware of a pending storm or anything like that.”
It was the second deadly incident involving Georgia-based soldiers in the past month. In late July, Sgt. 1st Class Michael D. Clark was killed by a lightning strike at Fort Gordon near Augusta. Nine other soldiers were also injured in the incident.